Efforts to reform truancy policy in Ohio have resulted in House Bill 410, which would eliminate suspension or expulsion of students as a punishment for excessive absence. The bill, which was passed in the House and now awaits action in the Senate Education Committee, would take effect in the 2017–2018 school year. HB 410 represents a shift away from zero-tolerance approaches to unexcused absences by removing “excessive truancy” from district policy regarding violent, disruptive, or inappropriate behavior.
Boards would need to adopt or amend existing policy to address student absences. Schools would be required to set up absence intervention teams – a district or school administrator, a teacher, and the parent or guardian of the child – aimed at finding solutions to get students to class via “absence intervention plans.” The bill suggests that the team collaborate with school psychologists, counselors and social workers, as well as public agencies and nonprofit organizations, which can provide additional assistance.
Schools would be required to report to the Department of Education any cases of habitual truancy, which has been redefined by the bill in terms of hours missed instead of days missed. The student would be assigned an intervention team, which must also be reported to the Department of Education. Though the bill is aimed at avoiding court interactions, juvenile court may issue an order to require that a child attend a certain number of consecutive hours unless the student has a legitimate excused absence.
For schools, a comparison for the absence intervention plan and the new protocol for truants is perhaps the implementation of a section 504 plan. Likely, the intervention team will conduct an equivalent to a functional behavioral analysis and come up with modifications in accordance. In contrast to IEPs, which are detailed, goal oriented, and have numerous methods for enforcement by the ODE, the solutions of the intervention team are not nearly as rigidly enforced by the language of the bill.
Should a child fail to complete the absence intervention plan laid out by the intervention team, the school can file a complaint to adjudicate the student as unruly. At that point, this complaint would be held in abeyance until the child either completes or fails to comply with a court diversion program. A child who fails to complete the program could be adjudicated as a delinquent child because of chronic truancy. The consequences for the parent or guardian of a chronic truant include a minor misdemeanor charge if the court finds that their actions in any way contributed to the behavior. In addition, they must pay a surety bond of $500.
The practical implications of these changes would likely place a burden on schools. Further constraints would be imposed on their staffing, who must participate in the intervention teams at additional expense. School budgets would be forced to accommodate in-school suspensions in place of expulsions or out-of-school suspension, which would require an extra classroom and teacher. However, the bill provides for no funding to implement these changes. The new approach to truancy will undoubtedly present a challenge to districts but aims to be a more effective means of addressing student absences.